Glowing in the Plasma The Electrical Interpretation of Comets


An earlier piece of mine on this site questioned some of the assumptions upon which many of today’s generally accepted beliefs concerning cosmology and astronomy are based. Specifically, the insistence on gravity as the dominant influence in the forming and shaping of the universe is rooted in models that trace back to the eighteenth century, when only the principles of mechanical science were understood. Since then, an enormous amount has been learned about the vastly more powerful and complex forces of electromagnetism — our whole world of electrical engineering and electronics is a result — yet theories that attempt to explain the workings of the cosmos take little or no account of them.

Gravity is the weakest force known to physics. A tiny magnet can snap a nail up effortlessly against the gravitational pull of the entire Earth. If the Sun were reduced to the size of a dust grain, the next nearest star would be about four miles away. The gravitational attraction between two specks of dust four miles apart isn’t much. On the same scale of distance, the galaxy would be a disk 100,000 miles across made up of 200 billion specks of dust, all miles apart. Present theory looks to a force spread this diffusely to account not only for the structure and behavior of our galaxy, but also the events observed across all the other countless galaxies scattered over immensely greater distances.

The law of gravitation that emerged from the work of Newton and his predecessors works well enough to describe the motions of bodies in our own back yard of the Solar System at the present time. Its success was so great that early astronomers were confident that they had discovered principles that could be extended indefinitely and universally. But when attempts were made to explain some of the phenomena revealed by more recent observations, such as the way galaxies as a whole rotate, or motions and events occurring at the largest scales of existence, the amount of matter in the universe — and hence the gravitational effects that it was capable of producing — turned out to be woefully inadequate. But the commitment to a gravity-only model had become so ingrained that the response, instead of a willingness to re-examine the theory, has been to postulate the presence of invisible “dark matter” to make up the difference — later extended to the notion of “dark energy” to account for enormous forces evidently at work that the observed amount of matter can’t account for. Things have now reached the bizarre point where, according to the prevailing belief system, no less than 96 percent of the universe has to be there in forms unseen in order to explain the behavior of the 4 percent that is seen.

Inventing unobservables to explain away failed predictions is almost always the sign of a theory that’s in trouble. Over 99 percent of the observed universe exists in the form of “plasma” — a gas-like state of matter consisting all or in part of charged particles that respond to electrical and magnetic forces, which are immensely more powerful than gravity. An alternative view, known as the Electric Universe model, is emerging that recognizes the vital role played by electricity, and is able to interpret, and in many cases predict, cosmological phenomena in terms of principles that are well understood and can be demonstrated in electrical and plasma laboratories. It deals purely in tangibles and the universe that we see, without recourse to any of the speculative abstractions that the conventional model has been forced to resort to when new observations failed to match expectations, or were never anticipated in the first place.

A good illustrative example, and one not too far from home, is the case for comets, which describe highly elongated orbits about the Sun, lighting up to produce their familiar, spectacularly glowing “tails” during the period of close approach, and then vanishing back into the depths of space for many years before reappearing. The conventional model holds them to be loosely aggregated “dirty snowballs” of primordial matter left over from the time of the Solar System’s formation, scattered as a cloud about its distant environs like debris around a construction site. Supposedly, occasional disturbances, for example by a close-passing star, would perturb some of the bodies making up the cloud toward the Sun on paths that became orbits. At the inner extremes of these orbits, the Sun’s heat causes sublimation of the ice and release of trapped dust and gases, which shine in reflected sunlight as an extended “coma” surrounding the comet nucleus, and which the pressure of radiation and the solar particle “wind” shape into an enormous fan directed away from the Sun. However, several space missions dispatched to test the model have returned results so much at odds with it that even proponents are admitting that they are going to have to rethink just about everything they thought they knew.

The standard explanation of comets has always had difficulties that many have felt make the model less than satisfactory. But if one is committed a-priori to a doctrine of everything in the Solar System being formed together by accretion from a contracting cloud of dust and gas billions of years ago, it’s really the only game in town. How, for example, does a tiny nucleus measuring typically a few kilometers across manage to hold together and entrain a coma that can be millions of kilometers long, and beyond that an even larger tail that exhibits a structure of filaments and pencils?

Comet West, 1976

If comas form from expanding gases and dust released by the Sun’s heat, why are they seen in the outer reaches of the Solar System where the Sun’s influence is negligible, as happened when Comet Halley was observed to flare up spectacularly in 1991 between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, or Comet Holmes 17P in 2007, which underwent a millionfold increase in brightness when it was heading away from the Sun? Even more astonishing, how does a glowing coma sometimes manage to emit X-rays as intense as those measured coming from the Sun, as Comet Hyakutake did in 1996? Nothing in a comet is supposed to be energetic enough to produce X-rays.

And then at the other extreme, if the nuclei are rubble held together by ice, how do they remain intact through the heat encountered in the close passes made by the class of comets known as “sungrazers”? And if comets are cold, dead objects enlivened only by surface action of the Sun, how can they release material as energetic jets reaching over huge distances, and undergo explosive fragmentation? Answers to all these questions have been proposed, but always after the event to account for “anomalies” and “surprises,” never predictively, and seemingly becoming more strained and farfetched, with a feel about them of defending a reigning paradigm whose core assumptions can’t be questioned. However, recent findings from actual close-up comet encounters seem to put the theory beyond rescue.

In January 1994, NASA’s “Stardust” probe swooped close to the nucleus of Comet Wild 2 and captured particles from its dusty vicinity, which in a triumph of precise navigation and space engineering were safely returned in a capsule parachuted down onto the Utah desert in January 2006. However, the quality of the engineering wasn’t matched by the predictions of the science. The theorists had expected to find a “Rosetta Stone” of primordial material accreted in the cold depths of space that would help decipher the story of the Solar System’s origins. But analysis revealed the presence of minerals that require temperatures of thousands of degrees to form, of kinds commonly found in meteorites. Products of extreme heat and extreme cold seemingly coexisted. Speculations followed of material formed close to the early Sun being expelled by energetic solar jets to distances far beyond Pluto’s present distance, or arriving from other stars to be incorporated into primeval comets. But they were contrived purely for the purpose. Nothing of the sort had been proposed previously.

The most spectacular mission encounter came in July 2005, when NASA’s Deep Impact probe launched an 800lb projectile at Comet Tempel 1 that struck with energy equivalent to 4.8 tons of TNT — comparable to a fair-size bomb. Once again the expectations of the standard model were confounded. The presumed composition of fluffy ice led to predictions of a crater the size of a football field and seven stories deep, revealing primordial ice and ejecting a large volume of subsurface material that would include water. Much of the energy was expected to be absorbed in compression, giving rise to warnings that little might be observed in the way of an impact flash or surface heating.

In fact there was not only a spectacular flash but two, one shortly before the impact, followed by an immense blast of radiance and fine dust that temporarily blinded the instrument sensors, with the result that details of the actual impact and its exact location were obscured.

Deep Impact

Instead of a deep crater in loosely consolidated ice and dust, the signs afterward pointed to at least two new ejecta centers, far shallower than anticipated, in what looked more like solid rock. The flash prior to impact came as a complete surprise to the investigators, since nothing in the standard model provides a mechanism for it. The ejecta were collimated into distinct jets that preserved their form over large distance, not at all suggestive of neutral gas dispersing into a vacuum. The expected release of subsurface ice water didn’t happen. From images returned by the probe and impactor, the nucleus was seen to be dry, sculpted into sharply defined craters, ridges, mesas, and spires — nothing at all like an ice ball softening and losing definition as it nears the Sun.

The highest-resolution pictures from the impactor show spots of white-out occurring preferentially along sharper features of the terrain, such as crater rims and the crests of cliffs rising above valley floors. Subsequently, the coma was seen to brighten throughout at a speed that couldn’t be explained by the transport of ejecta material from the impact. It eventually reached eleven times its original brightness.

Tempel 1

The Electrical model doesn’t share the assumption of the Solar System forming through gravitational condensation from an accretion disk — which is centuries old and comes with its own set of problems. It sees systems of stars, planets, and other bodies as originating in a hierarchical progression of fission events from hot, highly-electrically-stressed stars down through gas giants, rocky planets, and moons. It is now known that space is not the idealized vacuum that was once believed, but an electrically conductive plasma. In the Solar System that we see today, orbits have spaced themselves out and stabilized to a regular, non-interfering pattern in which the isolating sheaths that form around charged objects immersed in a plasma shield them from electrical forces, leaving them subject to the influence of gravity alone. This is why Newton’s law suffices to describe what happens in our own locality at the present time. But the earlier phases of fission breakdown and ejection were unstable and violent, with the resulting objects moving erratically, sometimes coming into close proximity and experiencing colossal electrical discharges between each other that carved surfaces into forms of sharp relief still visible today, and blasted debris away into space. This, the electrical interpretation says, is where comets, asteroids, meteors, and other minor bodies came from.

The only essential difference between a comet and an asteroid is the eccentricity of its orbit. Whereas traditional theory saw the two as different in nature and origins, recent findings show that comet nuclei look just like asteroids, and asteroids can sometimes grow tails like comets. The reason the orbit makes a difference is that the Sun carries a positive charge relative to the solar plasma environment, and hence creates a radial electric field manifesting itself as an electrical potential (voltage) that diminishes rapidly with distance. An object at a constant distance from the Sun will exchange charge with the plasma until their potentials are equalized. In the case of a comet, however, the large negative potential that it has acquired while moving slowly through the outer parts of the orbit far from the Sun can’t adjust rapidly enough to maintain equality as the comet speeds up on its plunge inward. The result is an increasing electrical stress due to the difference in potential with the surroundings, which the comet seeks to redress through an intensifying electrical discharge, with all the attendant effects familiar from laboratory demonstrations.

Cometary comas are lit up by plasma glow discharge, not sunlight reflecting off dust and gas — which wouldn’t even be there at distances where the spectacle is sometimes at its brightest. The enormous tails are shaped and held together by electrical forces, not the gravity of a minuscule nucleus or waning radiation pressure from the distant Sun, which would cause them to disperse like smoke in the wind if they consisted of neutral particles. This is also why tails exhibit filamentary structures — the hallmark of electricity active in plasma — and can change their illumination faster than could be effected by any propagating material.

The impact on Tempel 1 was more energetic than standard theory expected because electrical discharge from the projectile occurred in addition to the release of impact energy — once on penetrating the comet’s plasma sheath, and again at the surface of the nucleus, which accounts for the double flash. Electrical stresses of the kind that can cause heavy industrial equipment to explode create the jets of matter seen streaming away into space from comet nuclei (compare with the “volcanoes” of Jupiter’s moon Io), and the deep-penetrating forces capable of blowing mountain-size objects apart where any heating from the Sun wouldn’t extend deeper than a few inches.

When discharges become strong enough, they switch from glow mode (fluorescent tubes; polar auroras) to arc mode (electric welding; lightning), producing the “anomalous” white spots of brilliance and temperatures that rival the Sun, sometimes accompanied by X-rays. Arc discharges are easily able to manufacture exotic high-temperature minerals just where they are found; and the forms typically produced by electric arc machining closely resemble the surface features of cometary nuclei (as well as asteroids and other bodies).

Top: Micrograph of a surface machined by electrical discharge Lower: The surface of Comet Wild 2

For more detailed accounts of the examples touched on above, two good starting points would be the “Search” facilities on the Thunderbolts site and Holoscience. These will also provide a broader grounding in other aspects of the Electrical Universe model, along with pointers to many other sources.